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December 23, 2001 - Slangman: Health Slang ('Hansel and Gretel') - 2002-01-30

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on WORDMASTER -- wishing you good health over the holidays, with Slangman David Burke.

RS: Once again, just for our listeners, Slangman David Burke has rewritten a popular children's fairy tale to infuse it with some popular idioms -- this time, related to health and eating too much.

AA: ... a theme in this particular tale, which is also an opera that is often performed around Christmas.

MUSIC: "Hansel and Gretel: Dream Pantomime"/Boston Pops Orchestra


BURKE: "Once upon a time there was a boy and girl named Hansel and Gretel who were 'bored out of their minds,' so they decided to take a walk in the forest and got lost.

"Finally they saw a very unusual house. It was made of gingerbread and covered with cakes, and the windows were made of clear sugar. And they began to eat parts of the roof and windows. But then they suddenly heard an old woman's voice say, 'Who is eating my house?' 'Oh it's just the wind,' answered Hansel. Well, the woman was old but not totally 'out of it.' 'Out of it' means not completely coherent, not really thinking rationally.

"Well, suddenly the door opened and the old woman walked out. 'Oh, do come in and stay with me.' She took them both by the hand and led them into her little house. Then she gave them lots and lots of food to eat. They kept eating until they could not eat anymore.

"Well, Hansel was usually in 'tip-top shape' -- which means great physical condition -- but after eating so much he felt 'sick as a dog' and felt like he was 'running a fever.' That means to have a fever. He was nervous that he was going to 'lose his cookies.' Now that simply means to vomit. Why cookies, I don't know, but it's very common."

SKIRBLE: "And it's appropriate for this story."

BURKE: "Well, he felt like he would never 'bounce back.' Now that means to recover from being sick, to 'bounce back.' He felt really 'blah.' This is a great word. It's what we call an onomatopoeia, which simply is a word that sounds like what it means. So if you feel 'blah,' you have no energy, you just feel really terrible."

ARDITTI: "Spelled b-l-a-h."

BURKE: "Right. Oh, don't worry, his condition wasn't bad enough where he would have to 'go under the knife,' which means to have surgery. The last thing he needed was to go see some kind of 'quack.'"

SKIRBLE: "And that's not a duck."

BURKE: "That's not a duck, although that is the sound a duck makes. However, a 'quack' means a doctor who's not very good. In fact, a really terrible doctor is a 'quack.' The feeling in his stomach would just have to 'run its course,' which means just go through its natural progress of being bad, and then finally curing itself.

"Well, Gretel felt a little 'under the weather' too. 'Under the weather' simply means kind of sick. She thought she may even 'pass out.' 'Pass out' simply means to faint.' Hansel said, 'Gretel, just mellow out. Take a chill pill', because when you're really tense you're hot, so 'take a chill pill,' relax. Well, early the next morning the old woman -- I mean, the witch -- quietly woke up Hansel and led him into a little room made of more candy. It was actually a cage!

"Gretel heard him screaming and rushed downstairs, but the witch said to her, 'Go take this food to your brother so he will become even more fat, and then I'm going to eat him!' The witch gave Gretel the 'willies' so she didn't dare disobey. Well, to give someone the 'willies' means to make them nervous."

SKIRBLE: "Or scared."

BURKE: "'Gretel,' screamed the witch, 'go inside the oven and make sure the pilot light is on.' Well, Gretel wasn't 'born yesterday' and said, 'you know, witch, I'm not myself this morning.' When you're 'not yourself,' that means you're not feeling very well, so she said to the witch, 'Can you show me how to light that pilot light?'

"When the witch got in, Gretel gave her a push, shut the door and fastened the bolt. Gretel quickly ran to Hansel's cage and let him out and said, 'Hansel, the witch kicked the bucket. She croaked in the oven.' Now I don't really know why to 'kick the bucket' would mean to die. To 'croak,' that seems more normal,' because when a frog croaks it makes that sound of [throat sound]. (laughter) So if a frog dies, does the frog croak? Maybe not."

AA: Slangman David Burke comes to us from Los Angeles. Learn all about his different teaching materials on American slang at To reach us here, write to or VOA Wordmaster, Washington DC 20237 USA.

RS: Next week -- welcome the New Year with some cowboy wordplay! With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.

MUSIC: "Brother, Came and Dance with Me"/Disney Children's Favorite Songs